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Don't get overconfident… Tiny minds also think alike

Karmona Pragmatic Blog

American-Israeli Cultural Misinterpretation

September 30th, 2010 by Moti Karmona | מוטי קרמונה · 8 Comments

*** Warning: this post might contain cultural bias material ;) ***

As most of my friends and colleagues, I had the pleasure of working with Americans for most of my professional life and this post is only the tip-of-the-iceberg trying to capture one tiny angle of the American-Israeli cultural gap.

We (Israelis) think we know enough about English since we have watched many hours of American TV, studied the language from early age and use it constantly and “fluently” during our adult professional life but we should be aware about our tendency to interpret English phrases literally, which results in amusing/frustrating/interesting/challenging misunderstandings – We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.

Executive summary:

  • Israelis consider themselves creative, direct and honest but being perceived as arrogant, stubborn, negative, rude and pushy (did I forget any other negative adjective here? ;)
  • Americans are professionals, positive, polite and showing respect but being perceived as bureaucrats, artificial and square

Few examples:

Original (American) WordingOriginal IntentPossible (Israeli) Misinterpretation
American: “This is a challenge”This is a problem!Israeli: Great!, we are always looking for interesting challenges
American: “I would appreciate if you could get this done by Friday”The deadline is Friday – Make it happen!Israeli: It is nice-to-have to get it done by Friday, but next week is also an option…
American: “You might want to consider…..”There is a problem here – This need to be changedIsraeli: IMHO, there are other options but yours is also good
American: “This is ok but…”This is bad!Israeli: This is OK (Thanks! :)
American: “I do have my concerns”There are severe problem hereIsraeli: This is OK – Need some more discussions but nothing serious…
American: “I’ll make an effort”Just being polite… No real commitment here, it’s optional whether I’ll try harder than usualIsraeli: You can count on me doing everything possible for this

Original (Israeli) WordingOriginal IntentPossible (American) Misinterpretation
Israeli: “I don’t agree”I disagree with your point of view and want to discuss it some more so that we can reach agreement on the best approach (this is almost the default :)American: (Rude) There’s no room for discussion
Israeli: “Your presentation was OK”Your presentation was really goodAmerican: I didn’t like your presentation.
Israeli: “Why don’t you do it another way?”I’m giving you a helpful suggestion because I’m interested in improving the result.American: (Rude) I am insulting your work
Israeli: “I am OK” (direct answer to “How are you?”)I feel great – if I wasn’t, be sure you will be the first to knowAmerican: Nothing is OK
Israeli: “This will not work!”I need you to explain the way it suppose to work since it seems like I am really missing something hereAmerican: (Rude) I am insulting your work again…
Israeli: “I think” (pronounced as sink :)I think…American: Ha???

German Coastguard | “What are you s(th)inking about?”

Do you have more examples to share?

Relevant books:

Very cool link:

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Random Quote: “Don’t get overconfident. Tiny minds also think alike” (Pasha Bitz, May 2010)

Tags: People

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